ESA Certification Process 

Whether mental health illnesses are on the rise or people are less willing to live with these issues, doctors are now diagnosing patients with a wide range of emotional problems.

As these mental health conditions become more widely talked about and accepted as true illnesses, doctors are putting treatment plans in place. For some, these plans include the use of an emotional support animal to help them better manage and cope with the symptoms of their mental disability.

What are emotional support animals and what does it take to obtain one? Read on as we explore the in’s-and-out’s of the emotional support animal certification process.

In this article, we will take a look at the proper ESA certification channels and how to obtain a legitimate ESA letter.


Part #1 – What is an emotional support animal?

Unlike a service dog that is highly trained to help those with very specific needs (ie hearing or sight impaired) the comfort animal doesn’t require any specialized skills. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be of the canine species. Horses, pigs, birds, cats, rodents, llamas and even reptiles have all found their way through the comfort animal doors. As long as the furry, feathery or scaly critter brings comfort to the patient and enables that person to better deal with life, it can be considered a comfort animal.

However, that’s not to say you can just make your childhood pet an ESA (even if those fond memories of the two of you together does make you feel good) there are steps you will have to take to get a recognized and certified emotional support animal.

certified emotional support dog

Part #2 – What is an ESA letter and how can I get one? 

Contact your therapist or find an online therapist to get your ESA letter.

To start the process you must first see a mental health professional. These include therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists or other certified mental health professionals. From here, your therapist or doctor must identify and be treating your mental disability. This qualification stops people from just taking a family pet and claiming it has an ESA. The therapist or doctor must then write an ESA letter stating your needs for an ESA, on his/her practice’s letterhead. The emotional support animal must be deemed a part of your treatment plan. This ESA letter must then be signed and submitted to your landlord or airline to enable you to become eligible for all the benefits a normal pet would not receive.

Once you become approved to have a comfort animal you have one year from the date on your ESA letter to live or travel with your support animal. You will need to be reevaluated and renew your ESA letter to qualify the following year.

Who is Eligible for an Emotional Support Animal?

The list of mental disabilities that support animals can be prescribed for is extensive. The following mental and emotional issues are covered under emotional support animal laws, but are not limited to those who suffer from;

  • Bipolar
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Dyslexia
  • Autism
  • Age-related cognitive decline
  • GAD
  • Stress
  • Social disorders
  • Emotional overwhelment
  • PTSD
  • Separation anxiety

Again, these disorders must be recognized by a trained mental health professional.

Part #3 Where Will My ESA Letter be Accepted? 

Landlords and Airlines must accept your emotional support animal.

Emotional support animals are not service dogs and are not protected under the ADA. Service dogs are entitled to be with their handlers wherever the handler is allowed. This means that service dogs are allowed in restaurants, stores, grocery stores, and other businesses. Emotional Support Animals are only protected under the FHA and ACAA. Certified emotional support animals with proper ESA letters are allowed in apartments with “no pets” policies and in the cabin of airplanes.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows individuals with a documented ESA to live in apartments and condos with their support animals. Breed and weight restrictions are not limited to emotional support animals and landlords must accept an ESA to live with their owner/handler. The ESA owner must be treated the same as any other resident and cannot be restricted while living in the apartment complex or condo. If you are having problems with your landlord, you may refer to this helpful article.

If you are flying with your ESA, you are protected under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and you may travel with your ESA in the cabin of the airplane.  Most airlines require that you provide your ESA letter 48 hours in advance when flying with an emotional support animal so that you can prepare any other documents in addition to your ESA letter. You may send a digital copy of your ESA letter and there is no extra charge when traveling with an emotional support animal.


certified emotional support animal

Part #4 – What To Do If My ESA Letter is Not Accepted 

Understand your rights under the FHA and ACAA.

If you are being discriminated against due to your ESA, you may take the steps below to ensure that your ESA will be accepted.

With the increase of emotional support animals being used as a form of therapy, airlines and building owners are becoming more difficult and putting up unnecessary roadblocks for ESA handlers. This is why it is vitally important that you follow the rules to obtaining a legitimate ESA letter.

What to do if your landlord denies your ESA

If you are experiencing any type of discrimination from your landlord or apartment manager due to owning an emotional support animal, you may take the following steps below:

  • Step #1 – Inform your landlord of your rights. You will be surprised how many landlords will make claims that are untrue and illegal without knowing it. They may attempt to bully you with fake information. Let them know you are well aware of your rights and that you expect them to not discriminate against you.
  • Step #2 – The Fair Housing Act (HUD) protects people with emotional support animals, so contacting the HUD will be your next step if your landlord denies your ESA. Let your landlord know that your ESA is legitimate and that your ESA letter must be accepted according to the FHA.
  • Step #3 – Your third option will be to contact an ESA lawyer and have that person write a strongly worded letter to your manager or landlord.
  • Step #4 – Lastly, you can contact ESA Doctors to be an advocate for you and provide the necessary information to stand up for your rights.

What to do if the airline employee denies your ESA

If the airline employee behind the counter is not receptive to your requests, ask for their supervisor first. If your ESA letter is still not accepted by the airline employee or at the gate, you may contact the disability department for your airline for further assistance. The airlines are well aware of the rights of emotional support animal owners, but not all employees will be educated on the laws.

Part #5 – Getting an ESA Letter Online

You can legally get your ESA letter online through ESA Doctors.

online esa

ESA Doctors is a technology company that helps connect you with licensed mental health professionals across America. Utilizing tele-health therapy, a therapist can help assist you with the use of cutting edge technology. The process is simple –

  • Step #1 – Client completes an ESA Questionnaire
  • Step #2 – ESA Doctors connects client with a top licensed therapist that specializes in animal therapy. All therapists are approved by airlines and landlords
  • Step #3 – Therapist contacts the client utilizing tele-health procedures
  • Step #4 – Therapist writes the client an ESA letter, if the client qualifies for an ESA
  • Step #5 – Client provides new ESA letter to airline to fly with them in cabin free of charge or to landlords with no-pet policies

Start your questionnaire now to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal.


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